By Steven Monacelli
Racial equity issues recently came to the forefront of City Council committee meetings with the review of two important reports. The news is a mixed bag.
On the one hand, Dallas is looking forward toward a more equitable city government by reviewing a proposed citywide racial equity plan. The discussion of the plan showed hope and promise, even if the details are still a bit fuzzy. On the other hand, a recent equity audit of the Comprehensive Housing Policy revealed the persistent impact of racist housing policies and laid out a set of stark decisions city leaders must make if they are serious about addressing racial equity in housing. The audit is harrowing in its details.
But let’s start with the good news.
In March, City Council unanimously passed a racial equity resolution after years of protests and unrest in response to ongoing racial inequities and the killings of Botham Jean, George Floyd, Merci Mack, and others. That resolution promised an actionable, citywide racial equity plan that would help close disparities in lower income neighborhoods, which are predominantly neighborhoods of color.
The plan was developed with the aid of outside consultants and incorporated feedback from a number of community organizations and residents. The aim is to create strategies with measurable outcomes that can be deployed across city departments and assessed over time. Examples of potential strategies in the plan include evaluating citywide land use and zoning to understand how it has perpetuated divestment and wealth gaps in communities of color and provide recommendations to make the policies and proposals more equitable.
The equity plan is still in development, so the details are not all there, but the early stages appear promising and the timeline is quite aggressive. The completed plan is scheduled to be discussed at City Council sometime in April 2022 and considered for adoption in May.
Now for the bad news.
A recently completed analysis of the Dallas Comprehensive Housing officially confirmed what many have known to be the truth for quite some time — that racist policies and practices in Dallas systematically “excluded Black and Brown residents from safe, quality, affordable housing, and other opportunities to build wealth.”
“The report makes it clear that the City is in a really bad place right now in our quest to close the affordable housing gap,” Councilman Chad West said during the Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee where the report was reviewed.
The audit report is a public indictment not only of Dallas’ racist past but its ongoing unwillingness to take the necessary steps to correct the persistent impacts of segregation, environmental pollution, and divestment. It notes that communities of color have received less infrastructure investment and city services, have been located near toxic industrial sites, and have been dislocated and segregated by the expansion of the highway system.
Despite the decades-old Federal ban of segregation and racist housing policies, the report notes that the inequities engendered by them have persisted because the city has made inadequate effort and investment to correct for their effects. To this day, Black and Brown residents of Dallas have significantly lower homeownership rates, have their homes appraised at a lower value, and disproportionately experience homelessness.
The audit concludes that the Comprehensive Housing Policy is moreso a guide to complying with federal, state, and local regulations than it is a roadmap toward racial equity and the correction of systematic injustice. It also states that city leaders must spend “significant dollars” if they actually want to correct for “stark racial disparities in Dallas’s housing outcomes” and calls for building affordable housing in every neighborhood, not just predominantly low-income ones.
“The City of Dallas has incorporated equity into its budgeting process, but only a significant financial commitment will redress the historic disinvestment in southern Dallas and accelerate the strategic and equitable production of affordable housing at scale,” the audit states.
What this means is that if the city wants to be serious about equity, it needs a plan, tools to measure progress, and most importantly, the money to pay for it all. The unfortunate truth is that Dallas spends significantly less than many of its peer cities when it comes to addressing affordable housing and investing in neighborhoods held back by racist and classist discrimination. Finding the revenue to do it will be a matter of politics. In many ways, this is what the Defund the Police Movement was all about — reallocating money from over policed low-income neighborhoods and instead investing in things like affordable housing, infrastructure, and social services.
Ultimately, what we invest in is a choice mirrored by what we choose to let languish. The report asks whether city leaders will “hold themselves accountable for leveling the playing field that has been tilted in favor of predominantly White areas to the North by making significant investments in Southern Dallas.”
“It’s a matter of whether the council has the political will,” says Councilman Casey Thomas.
And as of right now, that will is just not there.